FORMER Union minister Beni Prasad Verma, who joined the SP on Friday, claimed he had told Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi around a month ago that it would be “difficult” for him to speak against Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav in the run-up to the 2017 UP polls.
Verma, who had reportedly kept away from party activities for the last two years and also avoided campaigning during bypolls in Uttar Pradesh, had earlier described the state Congress leadership as inefficient.
Considered as a strong OBC (Kurmi) leader in central and eastern UP districts, Verma was included in the party’s top policy-making body, Congress Working Committee (CWC). He also had a free hand in selecting around 100 candidates for the 2012 state polls.
With the Congress flag still outside his house and photographs of Rahul, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mahatma Gandhi hanging in his room, Verma said: “I had no work for the last two years and told Rahul Gandhi about a month ago that it would be difficult for me to oppose Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.”
“Both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul gave me respect but I have to do politics in UP as well. Rahul was not going to be the chief ministerial face in 2017 but Akhilesh will be… It would have been difficult for me to speak against him. Rahul even asked me how Akhilesh was doing as the CM, I said he was doing a good job,” he said, adding that he was finding it difficult to adjust in the Congress and was feeling suffocated.
Verma, who had claimed that the Babri Masjid demolition took place at the connivance of SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and BJP veteran L K Advani, said his heart was always with the SP. Refusing to speak about things from the past, he said: “Mulayam never spoke against me. Even I was in constant touch with him and his family all these years… He called me this morning and asked me to join him, I could not say no. After all, I am a founder member of SP. I had given SP its name, it hurt me when I left.”
Verma had campaigned with Rahul in during the 2012 polls in UP. However, despite being given free hand, only one candidate proposed by him could win the polls. “Facts speak for themselves. I joined Congress before 2009 elections and you can see the party’s performance in Faizabad, Bahraich, Barabanki and Gonda. Before 2009, it had got only about 9,000 votes. In 2009, after I joined, it got over 2 lakh votes in Barabanki — my native place,” he said. Verma, the party candidate from Gonda Lok Sabha seat in 2009, was later made the Union minister of steel. In 2011, he was made a permanent invitee to the CWC.
Amid talks of SP sending him to the Rajya Sabha and his son Rakesh Verma to the Legislative Council, Verma said: “I would rather not speak about this, as this is homecoming for me.”
Meanwhile, Congress claimed Verma cannot live without being in power. “His joining SP shows that some people have turned politics into a business. He has been constantly abusing Mulayam Singh Yadav all these years. Now, just to get a Rajya Sabha membership, he decided to take Mulayam’s shelter. Beni’s act has made it clear that parties lack people with principles and that people like him cannot live without being in the party in power,” said Satyadev Tripathi, chairman of Congress communication department.
Another leader added: “We did not expect this from a senior leader of Beni’s stature. He had direct access to Rahul Gandhi… he was made permanent invitee of CWC, which is denied to leaders with even 40 years of service to the party and he was also made a Union minister. Congress could not have done more for him.”
When contacted, Congress state president Nirmal Khatri maintained: “His defection won’t make much difference.”